Obama, Politics, and the Bible (Through Indian Eyes, Part I)
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Why do new presidents take the oath of office by placing a hand on the Bible? Because the Bible is the soul of Western civilization. Yet, for many people today, the Bible represents bigotry and backwardness, while the election of Barack Obama represents change and progress. They feel that Obama's first change as president should be to leave the Bible out of the inauguration ceremony.
Obama has chosen to place his hand on Lincoln's Bible. This is the right thing to do, because he owes his election to the Bible.
This may seem counterintuitive at first. Many Bible-believing Christians voted against Obama because of his stand on moral issues such as abortion. But let me to invite you to look at this subject through the Indian eyes.
For one thing, Obama couldn't have won without the vote of Hillary Clinton's supporters. Why did she support him after losing to him in a bitter primary campaign? You may take this for granted and think, "That's just what every losing candidate does."
But that's not how it is in India. We have over 900 political parties, and not one of them can hold primaries. The losing candidate would sabotage the winner's chances in the main election. Indian politicians are driven by the "will to power," as Nietzsche said that people in a godless universe would be.
But Hillary Clinton was driven by something more than this. Listen to what she said at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
"I ran for President to renew the promise of America. ... To fight for an America defined by deep and meaningful equality ... To help every child live up to his or her God-given potential ... make our government an instrument of the public good, not of private plunder ... Those are the reasons I ran for President. Those are the reasons I support Barack Obama. And those are the reasons you should too. I want you to ask yourselves: Were you in this campaign just for me?"
If Clinton were an Indian politician, she would have ensured that Obama lost. She could have done this just by sitting at home and sulking. She could have run as an independent or even struck a bargain with McCain. But instead, she put her personal feelings and ambitions aside and passionately supported Obama.
By doing this, she was drawing on her biblical roots. The early settlers-Puritans, Quakers, Mennonites, and so on-called themselves "pilgrims," even though they were sailing in the opposite direction from Israel, because they wanted to build a new holy land, a "city on a hill."
Governor John Winthrop, who used that famous phrase, was quoting Jesus. And Jesus was using it as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. He and his disciples were living under Roman totalitarianism, and they knew what kingdoms of men were like: beastly and oppressive, ruled by the "will to power." Even the disciples wanted power for themselves. But Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God has no place for this. It requires denying yourself, taking up your cross, and sacrificing yourself for others.
Clinton may not have been conscious of this-most people are not aware of their worldview-but she wasn't following secular politics, she was following Jesus when she asked her followers to deny themselves, forget about defeating Obama, and work toward electing him.
Perhaps she was sincere. But even if she wasn't, she had to do this because the Bible set the standards Americans expect from their leaders. American politicians have to submit their ambitions to moral principles. They have to put "public good" over "private plunder," as Clinton put it. This biblical culture makes it possible for a two-party system to survive. It allows Clinton to endorse the man who defeated her, and Obama to invite his most dangerous rival to serve as his most important teammate.
Of course, there were a lot of reasons for Obama's victory. This is just one of them. In 2007, I gave an 11-part lecture series at the University of Minnesota entitled "Must the Sun Set on the West?" It explores the role the Bible played in creating Western civilization.